Some talk of Alexander's tomb starts to ring hollow

Robert Fisk finds Cairo in a sceptical mood over certain tomb stones as the city warms to the theme: beware of modern Greeks bearing antiquities

Alexander began to lose a little of his Greatness in the Marriott Hotel lobby. The tomb, we were informed amid a swirl of distinctly post-Macedonian tourists, might not be the tomb after all. Stone fragments shown to archaeologists flown in from Greece were from the Roman Imperial period - 300 years after Ptolemy I supposedly laid his predecessor to rest in Egypt. Most disappointing of all, the Greeks had failed to identify any eight-pointed Macedonian stars among remains at Siwa oasis. At that, even the tourists began to drift away from the press conference.

Should we have been surprised? Even when Liana Souvaltzi addressed the press on Saturday - Greeks only, for she had no time to talk to Egyptian reporters - there was an air of palpable unease among the Greek diplomats in the Marriott. With eyes glinting,she told the Greek nation: "I have no reservation about whether this is Alexander's tomb," she announced. "But I am speaking to every Greek all over the world. I want every one of you to feel proud, because Greek hands have found this very important monument."

The core of Ms Souvaltzi's political message was swift in arriving. "This is a very difficult time for Greece - therefore I believe that the discovery of the tomb of Alexander the Great will contribute to our good image abroad. We must be proud to be Greeks." At which point, a Greek embassy first secretary shuffled uneasily.

What did this mean? Were FYROM archaeologists - diggers from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia - on the trail of Alexander's corpse? Had Ms Souvaltzi beaten them to it? Or was she just pleased that she, and not the Egyptians, possessed the hands which had found the monument? The Cairo press had been a little sceptical about her work, ever since Ms Souvaltzi disclosed that only the appearance of two serpents passing between her feet at the excavation site had persuaded Egyptian workers to help her. The serpents were a sign, she told nonplussed journalists in Siwa last month.

Sitting next to Ms Souvaltzi was her husband, who had translated the stone fragments which she had uncovered at Siwa; there were special thanks to him for his help. It seemed as if history were repeating itself. More than a century ago, Schliemann claimed he had gazed upon the face of Agamemnon and then dressed his wife up in the treasures of Troy. Now Ms Souvaltzi claimed her hands had discovered the tomb of Alexander and gave her husband credit for its identity. According to his translation of one fragment, Ptolemy himself, no less, stated that he carried the corpse of the god-king and master of the known world to Siwa, adding that "it was I who was caring about his secrets, and who was carrying out his wishes".

But the real wishes of Alexander looked ever more secretive at the weekend. Even before they set off to Siwa to survey Ms Souvaltzi's finds, the Greek expedition, led by the Director of Antiquities in Athens, Yannis Tzedakis, noted unhappily that the discoverer would not be travelling with them; she would be too busy talking to antiquities-department officials in Cairo. Ms Souvaltzi, he said, had worked on the Egyptian collection at the Athens Museum and had published a paper on the tomb of Alexander in Cairo three years ago. She says she is funded by her husband and had told Dr Tzedakis that she had found two tablets and part of a third.

On Sunday night Dr Tzedakis and his men returned from Siwa with a brief handwritten statement that made it clear the fragments of stone were Roman rather than Hellenistic and that the Greeks had not seen the eight-pointed Macedonian star which they had hoped to observe. Nor did the fragments make any reference to "poison" - the supposed manner of Alexander's death in 323BC - as press reports had earlier suggested. Although their visit had not been long enough to exhaust the theories about Alexander, Dr Tzedakis said, "the fragments are not Hellenistic. They have nothing to do with the period of Ptolemy I. The inscriptions are very well dated to be post-Augustine, after AD30. There is no Macedonian style to the complex."

The Greek Culture Minister, Thanos Mikroutsikos, confirmed yesterday that fragments presented to an official Greek delegation in Egypt "in no way" proved that the tomb was that of Alexander.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Franchise Operations Manager - Midlands or North West

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The position will be home based...

Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This independent publishing and...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Solution Architect - Contract

£500 - £600 per day: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Solution Architect is requir...

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue